Brexit Valentine (or It’s not EU, it’s me …)

14 Feb

 

You may not be the one,

But you are ‘a’ one

With whom I feel strongly aligned;

I love our deep and special relationship

(For details, read my mind…)

 

I have some issues with boundaries –

I like them fuzzy, not hard –

If you want to trade with me

I may play a Trump card …

 

I adore our rich exchanges,

Please don’t change a bit,

I like being in your club –

But not the membership….

 

We’re going through a transition –

It’s just a silly phase –

You’re my friend with all the benefits,

I’m the one who involuntarily pays …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A leaf from suffrage history

6 Feb

This is a picture of a flyer which hangs in my house. The campaign for Votes for Women was long, and fought on many fronts, and pamphleting was an important part of it.  One hundred years ago today, the first women (over 30, propertied) achieved the right to vote. You can see on this flyer that the President of the National Union of Suffrage Societies is listed as ‘Mrs Henry Fawcett’ – not as Millicent – who we have grown accustomed to hearing of, and to celebrating.  Soon there’ll be a statue in Parliament Square. Her listing here suggests that even for campaigning households, changing social norms in public could be a gradual process.

 

So how did I come by this little piece of social history? Probably not where you’d most likely expect.   A few years ago, I was up in the Highlands, and on a day when the weather was less than ideal for outdoor activities, we went to the book fair in the local town to pass a bit of time.  It was there that I found the flyer – under a few layers of unremarkable stuff, in a transparent pocket on an antiquarian’s stall.  I was intrigued and spent a bit of time reading through it – my kids came over to see what I was doing – ‘that’s so you’ they declared – finding something feminist in an unlikely venue.….

 

But should I have been surprised to find it in the Highlands, in a back-of-beyond kind of place? Turns out, not so much as you might have thought.  My artefact prompted me to find out a bit more about suffrage movements in Scotland, and what the word on the street, well North of Watford Gap, would have been.  I discovered that both suffragist and suffragette movements were, in fact, highly active North of the border. Edinburgh had one of the earliest suffrage societies, founded in the 1870s.  I’d not noticed before that Winston Churchill stood as an MP in Dundee, and was apparently regularly confronted by women campaigning for the right to vote in the early 1900s. Meanwhile, in comparatively provincial Perth there was a prison where women protestors were force-fed in the same brutal way as happened in London.  Scottish churches supported votes for women and spread the word, and women in Highland fishing communities were also activists. A bit of browsing online shows that there was a young female piper who played on marches for the Suffragettes, and a range of Scottish women who made their mark upon the movement – including Marion Wallace Dunlop, who was instrumental in the use of hunger strikes as protest.  My dip into the Scottish story shows that women everywhere in the UK played their part in giving us the vote.

 

On the flyer, the 14 reasons for supporting women’s suffrage make a vital connection between women’s experience and legislation – laws should be made by all those who abide by them, and reflecting the interests of all.  But the later reasons listed touch on something else as well – that women should have the vote because they desire it, and that objections to this are not based on reason.  The fight for votes for women put women’s agency on the agenda, and made the case for women’s place as full participants in public life.  One reason sums it up: ‘it is for the common good of all’. Representation really matters – on the pages of history, and in the corridors of power.

 

 

 

Corporate models

24 Jan

Last week’s Presidents Club men-only charity fundraising event has now become notorious, thanks to the undercover reporting of a young female journalist at the Financial Times.  She, along with over 120 other ‘tall, thin, pretty’ women, was hired to be a hostess at a gala evening where all the invitees were men – not just any men, but captains of industry, entertainers and politicians.  The women were asked to wear black high heels and even black underwear, and were given ‘sexy’ outfits of short black dresses and corset-style belts.  The prospective hostesses were all asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before entering the event.  What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot apparently. The FT journalist reported a sexualised atmosphere.  The women were paraded before the guests before taking their seats, and, unusually, were permitted to drink, during an evening which proceeded to descend into groping and propositions.  Meanwhile, an auction of prizes took place, raising £2 million for children’s charities.  Lots even included one featuring the gift of plastic surgery to add ‘spice’ to your wife, among the more routine offers of executive-friendly luxuries and services.

Quite rightly, the response to these revelations has been outrage, that such blatant sexism still exists in the British establishment.  I share the collective revulsion at the event, but sadly, I’m not that surprised.  If you’ve ever worked in hospitality, you’ll know that women in service are frequently viewed as quasi-public property by clients, and often hired on appearance: from the name badge I had to wear as a student waitress emblazoned ‘here to care for you’, to the egregious spread of ‘Hooters’-style restaurants, it’s pretty clear which sex is paid to please which.  And sleazy overtones are not just the preserve of relatively low-paid service industries.  At corporate conferences and exhibitions the world over, it is quite normal to find companies paying young, well-made-up women to entice delegates to their stalls, or to ‘work’ the networking sessions in order to generate interest in products and services, in their overwhelmingly male audiences.  Think of ‘brand ambassadors’ – how many male ones come to mind outside the world of sport and watches?

Since the FT report came out, charities listed as beneficiaries on the Presidents Club website have been quick to distance themselves from the event.  Great Ormond Street Hospital has gone so far as to say that it will return all donations received from this source.  The charity beneficiaries were not responsible for the nature of the event, nor would they wish to be associated with it. It’s certainly not conventional for charities to host ‘men-only’ events.

However, charities are not immune from wider corporate trends. I remember coming across an agency a while back which offered ‘spokesmodels’ among its services.  What on earth is a ‘spokesmodel’? Well, a brief google search showed that it means a very good-looking woman (sometimes a professional model elsewhere) who can be trained up in the details of your cause and campaigns, and can be employed at events to encourage pledges and donations from invited audiences. The assumption is all too often that the people with money are male, and the people who attract them to think about spending, female.

The whole corporate system still revolves far too much around these unhealthy dynamics.  And the damage is not restricted to the young women fondled at events like the Presidents Club, it seeps into professional life so that women often tend to remain in revenue-generating, not revenue-controlling positions.  The charity sector, like so many others, has a majority of women in its workforce, but a male-dominated executive layer, often accompanied by man-heavy boards of trustees.  So when I heard the about the President Club, I was sad, but not completely surprised.  After all, it’s only a short while ago that the UN appointed a comic book character as an Honorary Ambassador in support of empowerment of women and girls …

 

New Year, old beginnings …

2 Jan

Like many parents, I’m sure, I read Jess Phillips’ piece in the papers on New Year’s Eve with a feeling of recognition.  She wrote very evocatively about the early days of parenting in winter.  Her baby was in the night feeding stage as Christmas came, meaning that the effort to stay warm when woken in the pre-dawn hours was paramount. Bundled up with a baby in blankets on the sofa, the world shrinks to a milky bubble.  It took me right back to the strange half-lit half-life of the first few weeks with my own two children, but with two important contrasts.  My firstborn arrived in summer, and therefore the struggle was not how to stay warm in the darkness, but rather how to keep cool enough… and I did not manage to learn from my experience, as my second child was also born in the holiday season.   As another year comes around it’s a time to reflect on past and future, and I found myself transported back to that time of muslin cloths and weak sunlight: the seemingly endless weeks in the not-quite-daylight, nursing newborns….

My first birth did not proceed to plan, so we were in hospital for several days.  It was already warm outside.  I remember holding my new baby up to a mirror as the scent of gifts of flowers hung cloyingly around us, and the noise of the city from the street below was like something from another world.  When we got home, it was one of the hottest weekends for years, and I was fixated on the card thermometer in the bedroom which, even in early hours, struggled to stay in the green hues of the ‘comfortable’ zone.  As my son fed, in his little vest, I worried that he was getting too red from shared heat as he lay in my arms.  I would settle him under a muslin square as we saw the night hours through listening to the radio – the World Service still makes me think of babies.   Our bedroom then was painted blue, and as the rising summer sun filtered through the curtains and played on the walls, it was almost like being in a fish tank – the glimmer made it hard to get fully asleep again.

When my second baby was born, it was already high summer, and I remember particularly taking her on an early outing, after a few weeks back in the fish tank.  We were off to the suburbs to spend a day with relatives in their garden.   I was pleased to be getting away from our street where the buildings reflected heat off each other to make things even more oppressive – just my luck that this turned out to be among the hottest days on record in the UK.  I was concerned that the baby would get overheated and distressed in unfamiliar surroundings.  In fact, we set her in the shade at lunchtime, and she just slept, and slept, completely peaceful all that long hot day.  She woke in the late afternoon, and as soon as we got home it was a clear that it would be another very broken night.  With a cooling fan droning past us, we somehow got through, stickily, to the other side …

Those, hazy, hallucinatory days of summer sleeplessness taught me a great deal about babies’ resilience, and about keeping going… This New Year, my children are both teenagers, full of lives of their own, and the challenges are rather different. But even at this distance, reading about the cocoon of early parenthood brings it all back. The long nights of early child rearing are a kind of a time capsule – although deeply buried, you can always revisit them.  It’s a phase that does pass – often with relief –  but it is also somehow indelible.  A season in life, no matter what time of year it happens.

 

 

 

Shutting the door on 2017

18 Dec

A couple of weeks ago I read about a charity initiative to start a ‘reverse advent calendar’ – a great idea for donating food and household supplies to foodbanks. Instead of receiving a little gift from behind the date on your calendar each day, you pick something you can give away daily, and then pass your collection on to your local foodbank, to help people in need over Christmas.

I’ve always enjoyed the build-up to Christmas, so the concept of ‘reversing’ the calendar appealed to me.  I’m also old enough to remember when the excitement of advent calendars was simply in finding a new picture behind the flap – which star-strewn image would be revealed? Which winter wonderland would I enter today? This led me to think about another way of reversing the calendar. Instead of opening a door into a colourful new world, what would you like to shut the door on and put behind you, each day?

2017 has been another turbulent year, so the nominations come thick and fast.  Here are some suggestions from me, feel free to add your own …

 

I’d like to shut the door on:  Silencing women

It’s been a big year for women speaking out.  From the Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration, to the new openness in discussions of sexual harassment following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, it has been a time for hearing long-neglected women’s voices. The tide turned sufficiently for Time magazine to name the ‘Silence breakers’, the women who spoke out about sexual harassment, as their Person(s) of the year.  But as Mary Beard reminds us, silencing  women has deep roots in our culture, with women in the public sphere facing constant pressures to shut up. Let’s keep talking.

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Non-apologies

2017 has proved a masterclass in the public utterances of ‘sorry not sorry’.  In response to revelations of sexual harassment, many high-profile men have abjectly failed to apologise properly. It’s nicely summed up in this piece for Vox. My own favourite example is Louis C.K.’s notion that he was ‘so admired’ that he didn’t realise that asking first didn’t make showing his private parts to colleagues ok ….

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Threatening language in politics

The Brexit juggernaut has rumbled on this year, with divisions of opinion running to the top of our political parties.  In the midst of heated debate, the atmosphere has sometimes turned nasty.  There have been headlines calling judges ‘enemies of the people’ and Conservative rebels ‘mutineers’.  Most recently, the vote to give parliament a meaningful say on the outcome of negotiations with the EU, has resulted in MPs being termed ‘traitors’.  Members of both the main political parties have now seen demands for de-selection from other members of their own parties.

The essence of a strong democracy is being able to express opposing views and argue the case in a civilised manner. Labelling those you disagree with stupid or ignorant, or worse, sliding into threatening discourse, does not help. In 2018 let’s have some calm.

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Fixing women, not systems

2017 has seen the gender pay gap highlighted as an issue, and gender inequality in sectors such as broadcasting and technology brought to the fore.  As the inequities in these industries have been exposed, there’s also been a repetition of arguments around how women’s ‘choices’ explain differences in outcomes between the sexes.

A fine example came up this week, in reporting of a study which apparently found that teenage girls aimed for lower-paying jobs than boys, so that girls’ aspirations were perpetuating the pay gap. This analysis pays no attention to the social forces underlying occupational choices, nor to lesser value often attached to ‘feminine’ or female-dominated jobs, irrespective of the actual skills and knowledge required to carry them out.

Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley it’s been a year of reckoning for gender inequality in technology. The infamous ‘Google memo’ (which I blogged about here) kickstarted the ongoing debate around diversity in tech, and the widespread failure of tech companies to recruit, retain and promote female and non-white staff.  Many voices support the notion that cultural issues in the sector are deep-rooted, and affect women and minorities at all stages of their career, rather than resulting simply from life choices such as area of study, or having children.  Issues of unconscious bias also affect investment decisions amongst venture capitalists who fund tech start-ups as shown here.

It’s time to address structural and cultural factors underlying inequality, rather than focussing relentlessly on individuals.

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Bad awards choices

I seemed to spend half of 2016 discussing poor choices in award winners (e.g. here and here) so I was hoping for better form this year.  2017 may indeed have risen above the dubiousness of making Bono a ‘Woman of the Year’ as really did occur last year, but at the close of play we have another clanger.  It’s been announced that Oxford Dictionaries has declared ‘youthquake’ Word of the Year. This news has attracted some raised eyebrows, as few would identify it as a commonly used piece of vocabulary. The rationale seems to be that usage did increase this year, and that it’s a ‘hopeful’ word in uncertain times.  Hmmm… a word that few use, to describe something that hasn’t quite happened – perhaps that sums up 2017 after all….

 

As someone who shares a house with teenagers can I also suggest that slamming doors becomes a thing of the past?   May the door of 2017 now close peacefully behind you.

 

 

David Davis’s Imagination (with apologies to Willy Wonka)

6 Dec

Hold a referendum

Make a wish

Count to three….

 

Come with me

And you’ll be

In a world of

Pure imagination

Take a look

And you’ll see

Into my imagination

 

We’ll begin

With some spin

Traveling in

The Brexit of my creation

What we’ll see

Will defy

Any quantitative explanation

 

If you want to view sectoral impact

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to, do it

Wanta change the rules?

There’s nothing

To it

 

There is no

Brexit I know

To compare with

My imagination

Living there

You’ll be free

If you truly wish to be

 

If you want to view sectoral impact

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to, do it

Wanta change the rules?

There’s nothing

To it

 

There is no

Brexit I know

To compare with

My imagination

Living there

You’ll be free

If you truly

Wish to be

 

 

Ushering in change…

18 Nov

It’s hard to think of an instance where shutting a door in a woman’s face represents progress, but in this week’s appointment of the first female Black Rod, we have one.  Every year Black Rod comes to public attention as part of the ceremony attached to the presentation of the Queen’s Speech to Parliament.  In accordance with tradition – representing the independence of the Commons from the monarchy – Black Rod arrives at the doors to the House of Commons, and is symbolically snubbed: the door is slammed shut, and Black Rod must knock three times with a lion-topped, ebony staff, in order for the door to be opened. MPs then accept the invitation to move to the House of Lords and hear the speech.

But the job has a wider remit than that.  Black Rod is essentially a kind of CEO of the House of Lords, and has the accompanying title of ‘Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod’. As the first woman to occupy the role in over 650 years, Sarah Clarke is to be styled ‘Lady Usher’ when she takes up her post early next year.  Historically, Black Rod has often been a military man, as was the current incumbent, David Leakey. Sarah Clarke’s background is more one of military precision – the kind required to organise Wimbledon, or to be a major cog in putting on the London Olympics.  Such a background seems suitable as it involves dealing with the needs of Royals, high-status professionals, and the public.  Among the many duties of Black Rod, is responsibility for the royal areas of parliament, such as the robing room, and organising the State visits of foreign luminaries.  Black Rod also has a meaty security portfolio, including major incident response and contingency planning, should the House of Lords become unusable.  As Big Ben stands covered in controversy-generating scaffolding, and the plans for renovation of parliament remain undecided and yet urgently required, this might become a more high-profile aspect of the job.

There are those who might say that Black Rod represents exactly the kind of anachronistic flummery Britain could well do without. But as the Republic seems some way off, and we have a surfeit of constitutional issues to resolve over the next few years as the UK leaves the EU, perhaps there is a little consolation in knowing that Black Rod’s duty of ‘fostering diversity and inclusion’ in the House of Lords will at last be performed by a woman…

%d bloggers like this: